Women’s stories this week

Magnolia Pictures picked up writer-director Sarah Polley’s latest film, Take This  Waltz, for U.S. distribution beginning summer 2012.  Polley’s film premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.  Read Katherine Monk’s article here, an interview with Polley in the Toronto Star, and a video of her at The Globe and Mail talking about the film.  Visit the film’s website for more information.

Finnish director Zaida Bergroth wins the Gold Hugo in the New Directors competition at the Chicago International Film Festival for her feature film The Good Son.  The fest states that Bergroth’s film provides “real psychological insight.” Read my review of it here (third film listed) that I wrote after seeing a screening at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival.  Visit the film’s website here and click on “English” at the bottom to get a translation.

Mohamed Diab’s film Cairo 678 about the sexual harassment of women in Egypt received the Silver Hugo in the festival’s International Feature Film competition.  I wrote about this movie in conjunction with the 20th anniversary of Anita Hill’s testimony on Monday of this week.  Read the piece here and watch a trailer for the film.  Visit the film’s website here.

Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary Miss Representation on media misrepresentation of women and the dearth of women in positions of influence and power screens tonight on OWN at 9:00 PM (EST).  It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.

The second film in the Women, War & Peace series on PBS, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” aired on Tuesday night.  This film shows the power of Liberian women to band together to demand an end to war and the creation of peace.  The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, was prominently featured through both interviews and video footage shot during the war in Liberia.

Watch “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” online at PBS.

The next film in the series will be “Peace Unveiled” about women in Afghanistan (airing Tuesday, October 25 on PBS affiliate stations in the U.S.)  Check your local listings.

A Newfound Land

Up in Newfoundland this week the St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival is in full tilt.  This festival was founded 22 years ago this year — one of the world’s longest running women’s film festivals — and takes place annually in North America’s easternmost city on the coast of Canada.  Apart from the fact that supporting women filmmakers is a passion of mine, and even apart from the fact that I have always, as long as I can remember, wanted to visit St. John’s, I’m very excited about this festival because it is a true champion of women-made films in Canada.  With Canadian audiences being notorious for not coming out to support their own filmmakers, it’s lovely to see such a festival of Canadian films — women-made!!!! — being so enthusiastically and continuously supported through an organization like the SJIWFF. Some films are not Canadian in origin, but the vast majority are.

The festival began October 18 and runs until October 22.  Have you been?  Let me know!  I’d love to hear from people who’ve attended or who’ve had their films screened in St. John’s.  One film that is screening this year is CHOKE, directed by Michelle Latimer, who took some time to give Her Film an interview earlier this year in which she talked about Indigenous films and filmmakers and especially First Nations/Aboriginal women filmmakers.  Read the interview “Authenticity of Voice,” a collaborative piece between producer Nelson Jack Davis and myself.

I am particularly excited to see (when I can get my grubby little hands on them) Michelle Latimer’s CHOKE and Ingrid Veninger’s follow-up to her 2010 film Modra, I AM A GOOD PERSON/I AM A BAD PERSON which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival this year (read an interview with Veninger).  Another is Anita Doron’s hilarious SEVEN SINS: LUST (read about her recent funding for Lesser Blessed from the Harold Greenberg Fund) which you can watch below.

This is the list of the official selections at the 2011 St. John’s International Women’s Film Festival:

“NOT JANE.” Director: Helena Astbury / Country: UK
77 Madregot (77 Steps) Director: Ibtisam Maraana / Country: Israel
A River In The Woods Director: Christian Sparkes / Country: Canada
Atasco (Traffic Jam) Director: Anna Peris Lluch / Country: Spain
AWOL Director: Deb Shoval, Dominique LeFevre / Country: USA
Bare Knuckle Duet Director: Lindsey Connell / Country: Canada
Beat Down Director: Deanne Foley / Country: Canada
Busk Or Bust Director: 24HR Film Challenge participants / Country: Canada
Choke Director: Michelle Latimer / Country: Canada
Clipper Gold Director: Joel Thomas Hynes / Country: Canada
Cold And Sunny Director: Jennifer Halley / Country: Canada
Decoloured Director: Allison White / Country: Canada
Evolucity Director: A. Megan Turnbull / Country: Canada
Faster! Director: Marie Ullrich / Country: USA
Félix Et Malou Director: Sophie Dupuis / Country: Canada
Furies Director: Deb Ellis / Country: USA
Grace Director: Meagan Kelly / Country: Switzerland
Hidden Driveway Director: Sarah Goodman / Country: Canada
How Does It Feel Director: Lawrence Jackman / Country: Canada
i am a good person/i am a bad person Director: Ingrid Veninger / Country: Canada
Ida Director: Susan Wolf / Country: Canada
Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy Director: Rob Heydon / Country: Canada, Scotland
Jolly Friends Forever More Director: Kaz Phillips Safer / Country: USA
Kathy Director: Mark O’Brien / Country: Canada
KOOP Director: Katherine Knight / Country: Canada
Kwik Fix Director: Kelly Hucker / Country: Australia
La Nadadora (The Swimmer) Director: Gemma Vidal / Country: Spain
La Tapisserie Du French Shore Director: Barbara Doran / Country: Canada
Las Piedras No Aburren (Stones Are Not Boring) Director: Marta Parreño / Country: Spain
Le Fleuve À Droite (Good Night Truck) Director: Sarah Fortin / Country: Canada
Le Projet Sapporo (The Sapporo Project) Director: Marie-Josée Saint-Pierre / Country: Canada
Less Than Zero Director: Ruth Lawrence / Country: Canada
Levedad (Lightness) Director: Lucia del Rio / Country: Spain
Libangbang Director: Chia-Chi Tseng / Country: USA
Life Model Director: Lori Petchers / Country: USA
Little Heart Director: Janna-Marynn Brunnen / Country: Canada
Little Theatres: Homage To The Mineral Of Cabbage Director: Stephanie Dudley / Country: Canada
Martha & Dee Visit The 5th Dimension Director: Noelle Foster / Country: USA
Melt Director: Noémie Lafrance / Country: Canada
Meters Director: Darcy Fitzpatrick / Country: Canada
Mi Otra Mitad (My Other Half) Director: Beatriz Sanchís / Country: Spain
Micky Bader (Bathing Micky) Director: Frida Kempff / Country: Denmark/Sweden
Miss Representation Director: Jennifer Siebel Newsom / Country: USA
Oliver Bump’s Birthday Director: Jordan Canning / Country: Canada
Padres (Parents) Director: Liz Lobato / Country: Spain
Painted / Country: Canada
Painted Houses Director: Rozalind MacPhail / Country: Canada
Petites Vues De Chez Nous (Movies From Down Home: Port-Au-Port) Director: Pamela Gallant / Country: Canada
Phantoms Of The French Shore Director: Barbara Doran / Country: Canada
Point No Point Director: Jennifer Campbell / Country: USA
R Seymore Goes North Director: Rhayne Vermette / Country: Canada
Regarding Our Father Director: Marjorie Doyle, John W. Doyle / Country: Canada
Rescue Wife Director: Lynn Kristmanson / Country: Canada
Rough Skin Director: Cathy Brady / Country: UK
Sarabah Director: Maria Luisa Gambale, Gloria Bremer / Country: USA
Scent Of Strawberries Director: Guy Natanel / Country: Israel, UK
Seven Sins: Lust Director: Anita Doron / Country: Canada
Shades Of Gray Director: FRAMED 2011 participants / Country: Canada
She Said Lenny Director: Jim Donovan / Country: Canada
Signs Director: Tamar Natanel / Country: Israel
Sleeping With Frank Director: Lily Baldwin / Country: USA
St. John’s Women Excerpts: The Bev Brown Cut Director: Louise Moyes / Country: Canada
Super.Full. Director: Niam Itani / Country: Quatar/Lebanon
Tashina Director: Caroline Monnet / Country: Canada
Teamwork Director: Seo-yun Hong / Country: South Korea
Teta, Alf Marra (Grandma, A Thousand Times) Director: Mahmoud Kaabour / Country: UAE
The Director Director: Destri Martino / Country: USA
The Exit Director: E. Jane Thompson / Country: Canada
The Not So Subtle Subtext Director: Sarah Rotella / Country: Canada
The Price Of Sex Director: Mimi Chakarova / Country: USA
The Ride Director: Marion Pilowsky / Country: UK
The Room At The Top Of The Stairs Director: Briony Kidd / Country: Australia
The Wind Is Blowing On My Street Director: Saba Riazi / Country: USA
Us Director: Mazi Khalighi / Country: Canada
Variations On Elevators And Pink Girls Director: Sarah Shamash / Country: Brazil
Wapawekka Director: Danis Goulet / Country: Canada
Warchild Director: Caroline Monnet / Country: Canada
Watching Emily Director: Elsa Morena / Country: Canada
Wild Life Director: Amanda Forbis, Wendy Tilby / Country: Canada
yaya/ayat Director: shimby zegeye-gebrehiwot / Country: Canada

Sexual Harassment: Anita Hill, Cairo 678

ANITA HILL
Professor Anita Hill

In October 1991, an attorney and law professor by the name of Anita Hill helped to call national attention to the issue of sexual harassment by testifying at a U.S. Senate hearing where she discussed her experiences having been sexually harassed over the course of several years by her supervisor, Clarence Thomas.  At that time, Thomas was a nominee for Supreme Court Justice of the United States, a position he eventually achieved after being approved by the Senate.  The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee conducted a hearing to show they were trying (were they, though?) to get to the bottom of the whole ordeal and the sessions were broadcast on American television for days.  I had just become a teenager and didn’t quite understand the depth of the problem or the pain, embarrassment and anguish that Hill must have experienced both in her job and during the hearing itself.  It’s only been since that time, especially after starting to read feminist texts around the age of 15, that I’ve been able to comprehend the importance of this event as well as the political and cultural ideologies which helped to shape its treatment.

Professor Hill’s life was put on display for the world to see, captured for television viewers by C-SPAN, a network which this weekend also broadcast a conference at Hunter College in New York City which commemorated the 20th anniversary of Anita Hill’s testimony.  The conference, “Sex, Power and Speaking Truth: Anita Hill 20 Years Later,” was made up of a series of panels, all featuring distinguished speakers who helped illuminate the history and the social and political context in which Professor Hill’s testimony was heard, understood and processed, and discussed what is going on in the discourse surrounding sexual harassment today.  The hearing cut to the heart of America’s difficulty in discussing, let alone recognizing, the cross-discrimination that occurs (and ignorance that comes to light) when race and gender come together in a single event (including a large power structure within an even larger bureaucracy).

Professor Hill is African American.  So is Justice Clarence Thomas.  She is a woman. He is a man.  She worked on his staff.  He was her supervisor.  She claimed that he verbally sexually harassed her for many years.  He vociferously denied the claims. Both were lawyers.  The Senate committee which was convened for this hearing was almost exclusively male, almost exclusively White.  Did no one on the committee itself understand or acknowledge the inherent problem with this?  One interesting point is that most elected officials on the national American stage are also lawyers.  They understood how the power structure functioned and how the work both Hill and Thomas did was carried out on a daily basis.

Many people hated Professor Hill for what she was doing, and it was seen by some as “trying to take down a great man,” especially since her “lack” of both professional and judiciary power (not to mention social power in general as an African American woman), served as a reason for those opponents to understand her as simply wanting to gain power by attacking a man’s power.  Many men and women felt this way.  Those supporters of Professor Hill were largely drowned out and written off as troublemakers or dissatisfied minorities.  The “boys will be boys” attitude is still strongly prevalent in American society (and societies around the world), and used as an excuse for harassment of females by males.  It is refreshing and encouraging to see that the importance of Professor Hill’s testimony has been recognized and is still a source of discussion when it comes to sexual harassment and the interplay of race and gender in that discussion.  (Note that many people and organizations also opposed Thomas due to his aggressively conservative views on Affirmative Action and abortion.  The approval of his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court was extremely close, and originally split by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but the Senate later confirmed him by a narrow margin.)

The attitudes toward this event even leaked into popular mainstream comedy.  On one episode of Designing Women, one character wore a “He did it” t-shirt — the episode was about women being at odds with each other over the issue of sexual harassment when a woman asserts a claim against a man.  This episode was discussed in the book Television Women from Lucy to Friends: Fifty Years of Sitcoms and Feminism, by Lynn C. Spangler.

Learn more by visiting the website for the event at www.AnitaHill20.org.

More information:

Outline of the Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas Controversy.

Biography of Professor Anita Hill.

CAIRO 678

“Ask yourself three questions:

Have you been sexually harassed?
How many times?
How did you react?”

Cairo 678, a film about the systemic problem of sexual harassment of women in Egypt, was awarded the Silver Hugo at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival.  The Silver Hugo is one of the festival’s top awards for achievement in film.  The film, made in 2010, has screened at many festivals around the world, including the Seattle International Film Festival, Sarajevo Film Festival, Vancouver International Film Festival and at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in New York City.  It is written and directed by Mohamed Diab and takes a look at the ways in which a group of Egyptian women choose to respond to varying degrees of sexual harassment and sexual assault, including gang rape.  One of the film’s stars, Bushra, also served as Executive Producer.

Synopsis from the film’s website:

678 is the hauntingly real story of three women and their search for justice from the daily plight of sexual harassment in Egypt.  When one of the women resorts to stabbing harassers in the groin, she becomes a phantasmal hero that causes a nationwide stir.  The film provides a comprehensive assessment of the cause and effect of the social epidemic, demonstrating the fatal consquences of silence and furthermore the acceptance of denial as a solution, while revealing an intriguingly raw side of Egypt that the world has barely seen.

It’s encouraging to see a film like this emerge from Egypt, especially as the abuse of women in countries viewed as “developing,” “Third World,” in the “global south,” or simply “non-Christian, non-Western,” (yadda yadda yadda) is often not given any coverage in the U.S. media or, in fact, in many of the world’s most powerful nations, and Cairo 678 is receiving a lot of attention.  Women were key players in the political revolution that is playing out in Egypt.  Women who help to lead revolutions are themselves the most oppressed and attacked — that’s why they’re leading a revolution to begin with.  I haven’t yet had the opportunity to see this film, and I’m hoping, after having watched the trailer, that there isn’t a glorification of the female-inflicted violence.  This is too often a fetishistic approach by male filmmakers toward a story focused on women asserting their rights and sovereignty over their own bodies.

Should we fight violence with violence?  Firstly, sexual harassment is generally not understood as violence, which is an ENORMOUS problem in itself, and secondly, who’s to say that oppressors shouldn’t experience retribution for their attacks?  I’m not trying to incite violence, but sometimes violence is the only way to stand up for yourself.  See the typical backgrounds of women who are imprisoned in the U.S. — a vast number suffered domestic violence against which they responded violently.  Did they have a choice?  Many did not, while others were not in any position to consider another way.  Do the three protagonists in this film have a choice?

Trailer:

Interview with writer/director Mohamed Diab

Review by The Hollywood Reporter

Post by Second City Film Fanatic: “Fighting Back: Cairo 678 *Best of CIFF*”

E. Nina Rothe’s piece, “Life Imitating Art: How Cairo 678 Forecasted the Lara Logan Incident”

Interview with professor Judith Matloff on the CBC Radio program Q with Jian Ghomeshi (May 10, 2011) on sexual harassment of female reporters and the severe sexual assault on journalist Lara Logan in Tahrir Square. (Drag the timeline to minute 51:55.)

First Weekend Club & VOD Distro

The First Weekend Club has launched a campaign to raise funds for VOD (video-on-demand) distribution of Canadian films as a way to fight against the approximately 95% of Canadian box office revenues going to support American films (around 83%) and foreign films.  In fact, only about 3.4% of the national box office take in Canada actually goes to Canadian films.

The FWC is an organization dedicated to supporting Canadian films in cinemas in Canada to increase the screening dates and get butts in the seats!  You can join the FWC for free and receive updates on all the awesome films coming out of Canada.  Didn’t you know of the massive talent base that exists in Canada?  No wonder, the U.S. tends to drown them out.  What a coup this would be to have VOD distro for Canadian films!

Check out the indiegogo campaign with now 48 days left to go and about $18,000 left to raise. Do you love Canadian film?  Can you give?

 

Addendum

Just in the past two years, some of the films the First Weekend Club has supported which were directed by women or had a woman in the lead role include:

Act of God (dir. by Jennifer Baichwal)

Amazon Falls (dir. by Katrin Bowen)

Black Field (dir. by Danishka Esterhazy)

Daydream Nation (dir. by Michael Goldbach)

Faith, Fraud and Minimum Wage (dir. by George Mihalka)

Grown Up Movie Star (dir. by Adriana Maggs)

The High Cost of Living (dir. by Deborah Chow)

Modra (dir. by Ingrid Veninger)

Music from the Big House (dir. by Bruce McDonald)

A Touch of Grey (dir. by Sandra Feldman & Ian D. Mah)

Trigger (dir. by Bruce McDonald)

A Wake (dir. by Penelope Buitenhuis)

The Whistleblower (dir. by Larysa Kondracki)

The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom (dir. by Tara Johns)

Year of the Carnivore (dir. by Sook Yin Lee)

 

Women’s stories this week

LIfetime’s FIVE

Carol Morley’s DREAMS OF A LIFE

PBS series WOMEN, WAR AND PEACE

 

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Directed by

  • Demi Moore (“Charlotte”)
  • Penelope Spheeris (“Cheyanne”)
  • Jennifer Aniston (“Mia”)
  • Alicia Keys (“Lili”)
  • Patty Jenkins (“Pearl”)

This film (a series of five shorts) aired on Lifetime on Monday, October 10, a work co-sponsored by Walgreens (Way to Well) and Ford (Warriors in Pink).  Echo, the production company Jennifer Aniston runs with her producing partner, Kristine Hahn, also had a hand in the production.  FIVE is a series of films meant to call attention to the crisis of breast cancer, encourage women to take care of themselves and remain vigilant, and to raise money for breast cancer research and a cure.

It’s a very inspiring series of films, beginning with Demi Moore’s “Charlotte,” told from the perspective of a small girl (“Pearl,” who is the one person connecting all five stories) who wants nothing more than to see her mother who is kept behind a closed door — she is dying of breast cancer.  No one will tell Pearl what’s wrong.  The backdrop of this is the lunar landing in 1969 which everyone in the house (lots of relatives) seems intent on watching.  Pearl isn’t interested, however, and insists on seeing her mother.  Eventually, she is allowed to, more out of pity felt by the adults than anything else, and she shares her drawing with her mother, “Charlotte” (played by Ginnifer Goodwin).  Her mother gives her a necklace which Pearl eventually gives to her own daughter.  Moore does a great job at evoking the frustration and desperation of a child who doesn’t know what is happening to her mother, and the adults are often shot from the shoulders down, much as a child would see them.

Continuing with the story is Penelope Spheeris, who directs “Cheyanne,” about an exotic dancer who learns from her doctor (Pearl, now an adult, played by Jeanne Tripplehorn), that she has breast cancer.  This is after her husband feels a lump, and her world is turned upside down with the realization that she will lose both breasts.  Will their relationship survive?  How can he help her?  Out of all five of the films, it’s the one which spends the most time focused on the reaction of a partner of a person with breast cancer.  His world is turned upside down, too, but he’s finally able to come to terms with it. Despite their problems, they start to work them out, and decide to start a family.  A touching moment ends this film, when he unzips her shirt and strokes and kisses her scars.  Cheyanne is obviously self-conscious, even scared.  Spheeris does a great job here of treating these characters (and this issue) with respect and tenderness.

Patricia Clarkson rocks her role as “Mia Newell” in Jennifer Aniston’s film.  Diagnosed by Pearl, who has by now diagnosed many a woman with breast cancer, it’s made up of flashbacks, beginning with Mia getting married (her husband played by Tony Shalhoub).  We move through Mia’s mock funeral, a bittersweet and hilarious yet sad, scene, to her (now ex-) husband leaving her while she’s in the midst of treatment and convinced she will die, to meeting her current husband (Shalhoub), to her diagnosis from Pearl.  Clarkson is one of my favorite actresses, and she tackled her character with such dignity and respect, it was quite impressive to watch.  This film also stars Kathy Najimy as Mia’s best friend.

Alicia Keys directs “Lili,” the story of a young woman played by Rosario Dawson, who finds out she has a lump that needs to be removed.  A dedicated and super-busy professional with an assistant, she has to navigate the very choppy waters of her relationship with her narcissistic mother played by the brilliant Jenifer Lewis, with support from her sister, played by Tracee Ellis Ross.  Dawson plays this character with a quiet steeliness:  she is a no-nonsense professional woman, but in the end, finds that she does, in fact, need the support of her mother and sister.  They refuse to leave the waiting area while Lili is in out-patient care, but she returns, not being able to face the doctors preparing for the lumpectomy.  Keys does a great job with a scene shot in the hospital bathroom, a highly emotional scene where Dawson and Ross confront each other on how they grew up and how difficult a life Lili had without any support from her much older sister.  Jeffery Tambor also plays a small role, a man who has also been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Finishing off the series is the Patty Jenkins-directed “Pearl,” all about the woman who ties all of these women together (played by Jeanne Tripplehorn).  She not only saw her mother die of breast cancer, now that she’s a mother and an oncologist, she also finds herself diagnosed with breast cancer.  The film begins with her narrating a scene showing dozens of women going about their daily lives — she gives us an omnisicient glimpse of their lives, some as breast cancer survivors, others training for a race to raise money for the cure, another not yet knowing she has breast cancer….  While she receives a great deal of support from her husband (played by the great Alan Ruck), she finds that her father, now in his 70’s, still resistant to talking about his wife (“Charlotte” from Moore’s film of the same name), but Pearl insists and he wonders why.  She tells him her diagnosis but yet he still refuses to talk about it and she leaves in anger.  Even telling her young daughter is too much for her, a huge thing to have to talk about with a child, and she finds a way to do it with her husband’s help.  In the end, it is Pearl who “kisses the wall” (survivors kiss a wall of glass tiles in the hospital, leaving a message and an impression), with all the characters from the other films which she had diagnosed with breast cancer, surrounding her with their loved ones.  Finally, her father shows up and gives her a present that reminds her of her mother, and the reconciliation process begins.

Such a misunderstood disease even as recently as the late 1960’s, we’ve come a long way (not just in the film) to acknowledging the importance of finding a cure for breast cancer and talking about this issue openly.


DREAMS OF A LIFE

Still from the film Dreams of a Life. This is a scene from the apartment of Joyce Carol Vincent, dead three years before being found in her apartment

 

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Directed by Carol Morley

While combing through the twitter feeds on Tuesday of all the people I follow, I came across a story posted by Hawai’i Women In Filmmaking.  The link read simply: How could this young woman lie dead and undiscovered for almost three years?  I had to click on it.  Just the question, let alone the incredible story I read, gave me pause.  If this is true, I thought (about the article title), how did it happen?  How do we live so quietly within our own little worlds that we don’t notice that someone who lives, literally, on the other side of the wall, has died and been decomposing for three years?  How do we not notice this?  How have we built so many walls (literal and metaphorical) around ourselves that someone living 10 feet away through the wall or through the front door dies and we have no idea?  This way of life amazes me, and so many of us are guilty of it.  Her story haunts me, and I keep wondering, specifically, how did THIS woman, Joyce Carol Vincent, end up in that London bedsit, dead, with no one from her family and none of her neighbors knowing — for three years?  I want to see this film.

Joyce Carol Vincent, subject of the documentary Dreams of a Life

The story of the making of the film and the reconstruction/ excavation of Joyce Carol Vincent’s life is told with such eloquence and passion by the filmmaker, Carol Morley, in this article published October 8 in The Guardian. She has made the film, Dreams of a Life, which will be screening on October 16 and 18 at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival.  Carol tweets @_CarolMorley and @dreamsofalifeuk.  The Facebook page can be found at: http://www.facebook.com/DreamsofaLife.  The film will be released in cinemas in the United Kingdom in early 2012 and is distributed in the UK by Dogwoof.

 


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  • “I Came to Testify” (produced & written by Pamela Hogan)
  • “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” (produced by Abigail Disney, directed by Gini Reticker)
  • “Peace Unveiled” (produced by Claudia M. Rizzi, written by Abigail Disney, directed by Gini Reticker)
  • “The War We Are Living” (produced by Oriana Zill de Granados, written by Pamela Hogan and Oriana Zill de Granados)
  • “War Redefined” (produced & written by Peter Bull)

This is a major undertaking, a five-part series airing weekly on PBS, with the first film having aired on Tuesday night.  The next four Tuesdays at 9PM eastern will be the schedule, so tune in if you can.  The first film is a subject which I know enough about to know I need to know MORE about.  The horrifying stories shared by Bosnian Muslim women who were systematically raped and enslaved by Serbian soldiers (during the war/genocide in the early-mid-90’s) were the glue which held together the case against three Serbian military commanders held at The Hague.  This case was the first to establish rape as a “crime against humanity” and as a “war crime.”  One of the attorneys who defended the Bosnian women shared the story of how the Nuremberg trials virtually eliminated the participation of women and ignored the crime of rape, lumping it in with general “war crimes.”  Astonishing that it took 50 years to have rape classified as it now is under international law.  By the way, three women led the charge to bring this case to The Hague and defend the dozens of Bosnian Muslim women who were treated with such incredible inhumanity.

While it exposed the atrocities in great detail, this film also showed how empowering the event was, allowing these tortured women to assert themselves and proclaim their dignity.  After all, stated one of the defense attorneys for the women, they did not know if these men would be convicted, but they all (16 of them in total) determined to share their stories, tell the truth and try to make a difference.

Information on Women, War and Peace can be found on the PBS website.  The first episode, “I Came to Testify,” can be viewed online through PBS.

THE PUNK SINGER

If you haven’t yet heard of director Sini Anderson’s latest project, here’s a quick taste.  THE PUNK SINGER is a documentary of famed Bikini Kill lead singer, Kathleen Hanna (also one of the founders of the Riot Grrrl movement).  I’m sure a lot of us have been waiting for a film like this to come along — Anderson herself states on her kickstarter page: “The first question that the mention of a documentary about Kathleen Hanna prompts is usually, Why hasn’t one already been made?”

The Riot Grrrl movement wasn’t just about music, though.  It was part of the “third wave” of feminism and fueled by a core punk principle: do it yourself.  Read Rachel Smith’s piece from September 22, “Revolution Girl Style, 20 Years Later” on the Riot Grrrl movement.

So what’s so impressive about Sini Anderson’s project?

1.  It’s a project that’s been long-awaited by many a Riot Grrrl, even those on the fringes of the movement like me. (Yes, I read lots of zines in my teens thanks to my older sister who introduced me to Cometbus, Housewife Turned Assassin and Nomy Lamm’s genius I’m So Fucking Beautiful, and I even did several issues of my own in the late 90’s (“FiST”) and have always considered myself a third waver, in large part thanks to zines.)  Kathleen Hanna put out her own zine, too.  Read the linked article above.

2. It’s now a fully funded kickstarter project.  That’s impressive in itself seeing as how the campaign goal was pretty high: $44,000.  Many crowdfunded projects crash and burn due to too-high campaign goals.  Today, with 16 days left in the campaign, it has surpassed its goal by over $4,000. They continue raising money, and the majority of the project’s kickstarter backers pledged at the “over $25” or “over $50” level.  It is truly a small donation fundraising success. In addition to Anderson spending her own savings on her documentary, she has nearly 1,000 backers on kickstarter.

Why is THIS project a crowdfunding success and not so many other (also deserving) projects?  It’s probably a combination of factors, and that’s one mystery to the whole crowdfunding phenomenon.  What’s in the zeitgeist and what appeals to people at any given time? Who’s likely to donate? Are you depending upon your personal network as a filmmaker to raise these funds? So many questions arise from discussions about crowdfunding, and I hope to explore this issue more in the future here on Her Film.

3.  It’s an independent project — a documentary — and NOT a story that has been co-opted by the studio system, adapted as a feebly written biopic and turned into a piece of garbage.  And yet still there’s a HUGE audience for it.  People like to watch documentaries and hear the truth and the facts about figures like Kathleen Hanna, huh?  Go figure!

4.  It’s a woman-focused, woman-made project.  Yes!  How Riot Grrrl is that?  There’s a lot of talk online about it and a lot of excitement!  Sini Anderson herself is a founding member of the famed Sister Spit spoken word & performance art collective.

Watch the trailer

To learn more about THE PUNK SINGER and to support this project, check out these links:

THE PUNK SINGER on facebook

Kathleen Hanna’s piece on THE PUNK SINGER

Bikini Kill on the Kill Rock Stars label

Sister Spit

Listen to Bikini Kill’s 1991 “Double Dare Ya” off of their first album (with lyrics: We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution Girl-style now!!!)

BIG VOICE: An interview with filmmaker Varda Hardy

Poster proposal for Big Voice (image courtesy of the filmmaker)

VARDA HARDY is an award winning writer/director committed to creating meaningful and engaging films. Her shorts have had successful festival runs and garnered multiple awards, including “Crystal Heart Award” for her film “Window” and Grand Jury and Audience Award for “Ode to Los Angeles”. Varda wrote and directed the web series “Runaway Stars”, and co-wrote and directed the web pilot “House of Heather”. Her Branded Entertainment projects include Walmart’s “HD American Portraits”, “Summer Fun” and “Race to the Sky” for Detroit’s automotive industry, and “Rock For Equality” that was awarded “Most Innovative Video” by Youtube’s Non-Profit Video Awards. Following a global search for cutting edge directors, SHOOT magazine selected Varda’s work to be featured in their prestigious New Director’s Showcase. She co-chairs Women In Film PSA Program for whom she directs and produces Public Service Announcements. Varda is currently developing feature projects.

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HerFilm:  Tell us about your current film project, Big Voice.  How and when did you decide to pursue this documentary project?

Varda Hardy:  BIG VOICE is a feature documentary about a visionary high school choir director and his determined students. I decided to pursue this project last spring.  I’m making BIG VOICE because I want to tell a story about a great teacher, an effective arts education program and dedicated students who work hard and apply themselves, who aspire to achieve “great things”.

There are so many negative stories out there about schools, teachers and teens.  There is truth in those stories, but I want to share another kind of truth–the bright side.  I want to get young audiences all jazzed up about life and the possibilities that lay ahead of them.  I want them to know that though they may have to work super hard to and persevere through seemingly insurmountable obstacles, even though it may be tough, they can still shape their lives according to their “dreams”.  I think this is an especially important story to tell during these economically bleak and austere times.

HF:  In making this film, what are you learning about stereotypes of teenagers and how the teens themselves deal with them?

VH: I am learning that teenagers are complex just like adults. And that they really do have one foot in childhood and the other in adulthood.  The very same teen can be profoundly wise one moment and quite silly or petty another.   I am also struck by how “normal” the teens I’m getting to know are.  They have strong values, a strong work ethic and poignant philosophical views contrary to the shallow depictions of teens in the hyped extreme world of “reality” shows.

HF:  In a time when education budgets in the U.S. are being aggressively slashed, what is your take on the state of arts education today?  Also, how do you think these cutbacks will affect the cultural future of American children?

VH: I am seriously concerned about the effect budget cuts will have on arts education.  I believe that art elevates our society.  It spurs insights, it feeds our spirits, it expands our awareness, makes us question, reflect, see the world in a different way.  Art creates space in our lives.  Most importantly, art brings joy to the world.  When students study the arts, they learn to value this inexplicable, at times impractical, illogical pursuit that profoundly enriches our society.

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Watch the trailer

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HF:  Teaching, for many, is a “call,” not unlike the inner “call” to become a physician or an activist for some cause.  One of your main protagonists is the teacher, Jeffe Huls.  Can you talk a bit about him and what you are learning about the craft of teaching?

VH:  I came into this project with an intellectual appreciation for teachers and what they do.  I have two daughters and I am deeply grateful to their teachers and for the knowledge and life lessons they have provided my children.  However, now that I have been witness to the “inner sanctum” of the classroom, I have a whole other level of appreciation for teachers and what they do.  Mr. Huls truly cares about his students.  He believes that teaching them to read music, to express a song with true artistry, to learn to cooperate so that they can merge their voices to become one “big voice” is a gift that will enrich their lives forever.  I gather from conversations I have had with adults who studied choir in high school, being a part of a a high school choir is a precious gift.

HF:  What have you learned, as an individual, about teenagers and their passions and dreams?

VH:  I have learned that some have passions and ambitious dreams like being a heart surgeon, a famous actor or singer. Others dream of having a family and a nice home, and some silently dream that tomorrow will bring them a stable life and a room of their own.

HF:  One of your benefactors is the Santa Monica Malibu Education Foundation FOR THE ARTS endowment.  How were you able to partner with them, and how will their involvement affect the life of your film (distribution, sales, etc.)?

VH: I created a PSA for the SMMEF Save Our School Fundraising Campaign featuring local kids along with Ed Harris and Amy Madigan.  The PSA was one small cog in a giant wheel of volunteer efforts that raises  $1.5 million dollars in six weeks to restore teachers and vital school programs. Through that experience I grew appreciative of the SMMEF which funds many of the Santa Monica & Malibu Schools arts programs as well as academic enrichment programs and sports. I am in awe of what they accomplish under the leadership of Executive Director Linda Gross and I want to continue to support their efforts.  Again, I want children to know that they are important and our society cares about them.

HF:  What type of role as a filmmaker do you like to take as you are filming?  Do you simply observe or do you like to be more active with the people you are documenting?

VH: Mostly I observe. Sometimes I ask them to “do that again”.  But rarely.  I am doing interviews which I am finding to be extremely thought provoking and illuminating.

HF:  What type of production team you like to work with when you are making films?

VH:  I like to work with creative, self-motivated, easy going people who have a positive “can do” attitude.  I like them to have strong opinions which I openly invite.

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To find out more about BIG VOICE, take a look at these links:

Kickstarter campaign (ends Oct. 10, 2011)

•  Website of Varda Hardy and her IMDb page

•  Facebook page for BIG VOICE

Websites  for BIG VOICE: 

•  http://flavors.me/bigvoicemovie

•  http://bigvoicemovie.wordpress.com/

•  Trailer for “ODE TO LOS ANGELES” (PSA) — click here.

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UPDATE

Oct. 10, 2011

BIG VOICE is now a fully funded project on kickstarter, having surpassed its $40,000 campaign goal today by over $2,700 and receiving the support of 430 backers, the majority of whom were at the $25 or more, $40 or more and $100 or more donation levels.